WAG going London-wide

Whitechapel Anarchist group has tended to be easily the largest and loudest local anarchist group in London in recent times and is influential within some of the movement's major assets. As such, their decision to dissolve and push a city-wide organising drive is noteworthy.

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 14, 2011

Having hung around with a few of the WAG lot in Whitechapel as a fellow North Londoner and member of the Freedom Press collective (the building is based off Whitechapel High Street) I've long been of the opinion that while I'm not personally an insurrectionist (SolFed all the way baby) a lot of the criticism that has been piled on from the movement at large underestimates the group, how thoughtful many of them have been about their approach and how far they've moved in a relatively short time.

Today's announcement bears that idea out to a great extent I think.

It's probably worth explaining a little of their genesis (as I understand it, ex-WAGs are welcome to correct things). Taking some of their initial lessons, activities and a lot of their stylistic approach from old hands in the Class War Federation, WAG had a longstanding tension between its localised presence and its city-wide inclinations, hopping between a good street-level engagement with people in Tower Hamlets based in large part on their cultural approach and a willingness to engage with the media which made them a national voice of the movement*.

As they themselves note, this has pulled them in two directions over time:

WAG was essentially a first point of contact for anyone in London who wanted to meet likeminded people. This was an exhausting and exhilarating model – a load of up-for-it people from all over London moving from one crazy event to another

The way in which they acquired this position moved beyond the CWF as described by Ian Bone in his biography and Martin Lux in Anti-Fascist. Where Class War was severely limited politically by its decision to build such a specific cultural brand around a Sun-style newspaper, eventually running into the buffers, WAG broke out of that mould somewhat, keeping a cultural edge to its definition of class but hopefully avoiding being defined by it.

This I think ties into their announcement, which offers some interesting insights about what they want to achieve. From the outset offering themselves up as a class struggle group with a "WAG" ethos (presumably meaning they wish to keep the cultural dimension mentioned in the previous paragraph and continue with insurrectionist methodology), their agenda for a first meeting is pretty practical for sorting a sustainable organisation.

It identifies geographical factors, key roles to be mandated, key activities to underpin the push for a London-wide presence and looks to create a coherent "political manifesto" (whether this is meant in a platformist way or simply in terms of the tactics it wishes to focus on to build the class struggle we'll have to see), none of which would look out of place at an AF or SolFed meeting.

In and of itself I think what they've come up with shows a fair bit of movement in their thinking - though how that'll play out on the larger level is anyone's guess. It does potentially clash with other initiatives and groupings which aim for a community and/or London wide presence - how will it interact with London Anarchists, Network X, what's going on in Lewisham etc? How will it approach workplace-oriented groups like SolFed or the AF as a more general anarchist group? This stuff will need sorting out if it's to be an initiative which helps bring us together rather than sow discord.

On which note, as an initial, individual perspective from a SolFed member I'm wishing them the best on this one. They have some capable people involved and a lot of heart, even if I'm not sure about some of the rhetoric sometimes ;).


* For all the complaints about their unilaterally assuming the face-of-the-movement mantle, that engagement gave anarchism at least some profile and was less blunt than is sometimes suggested: WAG's interview with the BBC after G20 for example was pretty decent given how far the reporter was going to try and persuade them to endorse a "smashy-smashy" approach.